07 May 2016
Tales from the Borderlands is a welcome return to form from the episodic player-influenced storyteller Telltale, providing a unique genre-twisting take on Gearbox’s Borderlands universe in a funny, enjoyable and thoroughly charming way. It is a fine example of what good writing can bring to a, by this point, already well-used format, surpassing many of the contusing flaws of the game engine to deliver what is probably my second favourite Telltale series (over the first The Walking Dead season). Even for those not familiar with the idiosyncratic Borderlands motif, Tales from the Borderlands is an excellent series that is bound to deliver frequent chuckles, gripping choices and, at-times, ponderous moments over the impact of one’s actions. It is certainly not to be missed.
Set after the events of Borderlands 2, TFTB focuses on the stories of the opportunistic, ambitious yet entirely likeable Rhys, a middle-manager type within the space-faring corporation, Hyperion, and Fiona, an equally likeable and delightfully wry con-artist scratching out a living any way she can. Based upon the violent and dangerous world of Pandora, the story brings the unlikely paring together with a band of other colourful characters in their search for one of the many fabled ‘Vaults’ left behind on the planet by an advanced alien species, and said to contain treasures beyond even the wildest imaginations. What follows is a humorous, often wacky and regularly (though not always) light-hearted adventure, told primarily through dialogue between the characters and interactive action pieces. The gameplay is much like Telltale games of old, with the player choosing the set dialogue options for characters while being forced to make choices at key junctures in the plot. Although many of the choices end up being largely redundant, the game does a good job of making you at least feel as though you have a real impact on the storyline, providing choices that are not always black and white which do impact on key elements of the game. The visuals are also great and the already cell-shaded and distinct look of Borderlands provides a perfect match for the Telltale engine. Sure, graphical hitches are a plenty and the game’s frame rate drops regularly, though this was not nearly as much of an issue as in previous games, particularly since the similarity in visuals to the original allowed for a little more tolerance towards some of the more minor graphical mishaps.
Furthermore on the gameplay, while it is similar to other Telltale games, it never becomes banal or dull primarily due to the excellent dialogue and performances thereof by the talented voice cast. The omnipresent Troy Baker does a stellar job in voicing the ambitious Rhys, while Laura Bailey similarly provides a multitude of well-delivered lines in her role as the charismatic Fiona. The extended cast also delivers sound support through a number of distinct and often complex characters, not least Dameon Clarke’s wonderfully devious Handsome Jack, a great example of a deep pseudo-villain into whom it is difficult to judge whether to place one’s trust. It is a pleasure to be in the company of these characters throughout TFTB’s five constituent episodes, with the plot moving along at a brisk pace and featuring just the right balance between dialogue and action. The telling of the story from the differing perspectives of both Rhys and Fiona also allow for some great moments, where distortions of what really happened are told with great comedic effect (the overuse of the word ‘bro’ in one scene being particularly memorable). Finally, the music also deserves a mention, setting exactly the right tone throughout, from upbeat and ‘on the road-like’ tunes to more meditative ‘what have I just done?’ tracks. Needless to say, the playlist from the game is still a regular feature in my current listening habits.
In sum, Tales from the Borderlands is a thoroughly entertaining, charming and comedic ally light-hearted foray into the bizarre and colourful world of theBorderlands universe. It is a certain return to form for what was becoming a somewhat stale format for Telltale games, injecting a welcome dose of new life into the engine. In this way, it proves that the engine can remain an engaging and workable tool when matched with superb dialogue and an engaging plot, while also augmented by a great soundtrack and masterful characterisation. This is easily one of Telltale’s best so far.